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Future City, Illinois by Robert Fromberg

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

On the southern tip of Illinois is a tiny piece of land, like the tip of a baby’s pinky finger extending into the water where the Mississippi River and Ohio River meet. Shortly after 1900, on this fingertip, two and one-half miles from the city of Cairo (pronounced CAY-ro, a sign of just how much the Midwest spurns the Old World), which after the Civil War became a hub for shipping and railroad lines, as well as home to a thriving ferry business and mansions for those who enjoyed the wealth the locale created—a town called Future City, Illinois, came into being. Perhaps “town” is the wrong word, as the community did not have any organized administration. Residents were Blacks who worked as laborers and home help in Cairo.

In 1912, the Mississippi River flooded near Future City, demolishing most of the community’s houses and buildings. Residents set up tents while the residents rebuilt. By early 1913, 214 structures were again standing and functional.

In March of that year, heavy rains were causing both the Ohio River and Mississippi River to rise to dangerous levels, threatening the Ohio Valley, including Cairo and Future City. The residents of Future City were called to build up the levees around Cairo. This effort succeeded. Cairo suffered minimal damage. However, on April 6, the flood overwhelmed Future City. Crews on motorboats used ropes to capture buildings being swept away. When the flood receded, 168 structures had been saved. However, none was on the property it had occupied before the flood.

Future City’s current population is unknown. Most accounts say only a “handful” of people live there, that word indicating both a number and a stature.

Wikipedia adds the helpful note that Future City’s area code is 618.


Robert Fromberg's memoir, How to Walk with Steve, is coming in September from Latah Books. His other prose has appeared in Litro Magazine, Red Fez, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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